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    Not About Polanski

    In 1977, a publicly-admired man committed a violent crime against a woman, and the actual events are not in dispute. Between his arrest and his sentencing, the man fled the United States and settled in France. Decades later, the French strenuously resisted extraditing him to the States.

    I'm talking, of course, about Ira Einhorn. Einhorn was a well-known Philadelphia activist who murdered his girlfriend, Holly Maddux, and stuffed her body in a trunk. He turned up living in France, happily married and using another name, in 1997. (h/t to Atrios for the reminder)The French didn't want to extradite.

    Of course, Einhorn's case is nothing like Polanski's, because every time a famous or important or brilliant man commits a crime against a woman (or in Polanski's case a girl) our public discourse treats it as an unique and exceptional case, which the usual laws don't adequately address. Then a public debate commences on whether the rules should apply to such a man at all.

    And the next time a famous man commits a crime against a woman or a girl, that case will be entirely unique and special, too, in exactly the same way. Just like the unique and special man who committed it.

    Others have written about this better than I can. Kate Harding has a compelling post at Salon dismantling Polanski's apologists, and Flavia at Ferule & Fescue has a great think piece about the larger women's issues. And I find myself thinking about a passage from Maureen Corrigan's book Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, in which she recounts the kickoff party for her first year of graduate school, in 1977, at UPenn, at which a senior member of the faculty

    knocks back another glass (what is this, his fourth?), stares over our heads at a spot on the wall, and mutters an oracular verdict: "None of you will ever come close to Ira Einhorn. He was the most brilliant student the department ever had."

    The double lesson that Corrigan gleaned from this spontaneous tribute was that only brilliance mattered, and that only men qualified as brilliant. Anyone else just had to watch out for herself:

    a woman could even be murdered and stuffed in a trunk, but if her boyfriend was "brilliant," he would the one who would be mourned for having his promising career ruined....

    And that's what the Polanski case comes down to: what a man does to a defenseless child is turned into a debate about his personal wonderfulness. When we talk about Polanski, the victim is already at a disadvantage, cast in the shadow by the spotlight of his celebrity. Everything is about him.

    But this is not about him. It never was. It is about what was done to her.

    The argument that great artists or thinkers deserve forbearance for their crimes is always made in bad faith; those making it would never be willing to accept its consequences personally. No one goes around saying, "Martin Scorsese should be permitted to rape me, beat me, or kill me if he feels like it, because Raging Bull was such a cinematic landmark." When people say that different rules apply for artists, what they really mean is that their favorite artists should have permission to hurt and mistreat other people. They are saying, "There are lots of people I don't give a damn about, and Martin Scorsese's work has given me great pleasure, so he should be entitled to beat them, rape them, or kill them if he happens to be in that mood. And he should have gotten his Oscar much sooner." Of course, that principle is never phrased directly. How could it be?

    The debate isn't about Polanski. It's about whether or not that thirteen-year-old girl matters. To Polanski's supporters, she clearly doesn't. They're okay with whatever happens to her. My question to them is: who is special enough not to get raped? If thirteen-year-olds without significant film credits are not allowed to refuse sex, or have even minimal control over what others do with their bodies, who is high enough on the A-list that Polanski can't violate her? Obviously, people would be upset if he sexually assaulted Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep, because they're so special themselves. If raping a child is okay and raping an Oscar-winner is not, where's the line? Is Whoopi Goldberg big enough that Polanski can't commit a felony against her? Is Debra Winger? What about development executives, or agents? Come on, Polanski fans, lay it out clearly. Girls need to be able to plan ahead.


    Just an excellent post, good Dr.


    Great post, Dr. C.  Last week, before Polanski got nicked and wound up back in the headlines, I found myself thinking about the concept of a statute of limitations and wondering why it is that we feel that if someone can avoid prosecution long enough that they should be automatically exonerated without the due process of law.  Then Polanski popped back up and I thought, "Case in point."

    I read Harding's post yesterday.  She really pulled no punches, even taking on on the "wishes of the victim" argument by pointing out that the point of law is not to cater to the wishes of the victim, but rather to serve justice.

    Kate's a good Internet friend of mine and a standout feminist and fat-hate fighter. Like she does with most everything she does, she got right to the point on this. Count me as a Kate Harding fan.

    Thanks, DF.

    The thing about the statute of limitations is that the clock stops if you *flee the jurisdiction*. The reason we're still dealing with "old stuff" is because Polanski fled during his trial. The statute of limitations is about not dredging up ancient history for fresh prosecutions, and varies with the crime. (Midemeanors expire quickly if they don't get charged, murder raps last forver.) You

    And I would add to Harding's point about the victim that weirdly, the victim's wishes are paramount when they happen to serve Polanski. Her voiced wishes weren't worth a damn when Polanski didn't want to obey them. That's an interesting rule.

    I don't believe for a second that Polanski's defenders would be swayed by the victim's wish for prosecution.

    Over the weekend, a friend of mine was visiting. The Polanski arrest came up and I sort of rolled my eyes in a "it's-been-so-long-and-don't-we-have-more-important-things-to-worry-about" sort of way."

    My friend asked, "So, it's only important to arrest the men who raped little girls last week?"

    It was a needed reality check. So is this post. Fantastic work!

    Thanks for the kind words, gang.


    I've been having fun around here.

    At the risk of getting skewered, I do want to point out that many of the Polanski "apologists" were most definitely not making excuses for Polanski. Rather, they were stating that his act was vile, he should be prosecuted for it, but that his art is independent of his person.

    I'm not the artsy-fartsy type, but that does sound like a reasonable argument to me.

    Let me respond without the skewer:

    I, too, maintain that his art is separate from his personal deeds, and always have. I paid to see The Pianist, love Chinatown, don't grudge him his Oscar and bought a DVD of his within the last six months. (Macbeth, which is terrible.) That position is mine, and I am not attacking it.

    But many of his prominent defenders go far beyond that, defending the man because of the art. (How grotesque, really, to use the Leni Riefenstahl defense.) The denounce the arrest and want Polanski freed.

    A very partial and selected list of those people include:

    Anne Applebaum at the Washington Post. The French Culture Minister, the Polish Foreign Minsiter (Appbelbaum's husband), Whoopi Goldberg, Debra Winger, Martin Scorsese (which explains why I singled out the last three for examples in my post), pedro Almodovar, Costa Gavras, Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, and a legion of film types.

    Here's a link to a list of film people who've signed a petition in which they "demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski."

    That's "immediate," "release" and "demand." It's not art criticism.

    Well, most of those people are just crazy, then. For Woody Allen, it's probably self-defense. However, he's still crazy regardless. (Also, am I the only person who thinks Woody Allen films aren't really that good?)

    Lately he sucks.  I still like some of his earlier stuff like Sleeper and Annie Hall, but I think these days he mostly views making movies as an excuse to spend time with Scarlett Johannsen.

    IIRC, I liked Sleeper, but found Annie Hall to be only so-so, which is to say much better than Mighty Aphrodite, which I don't think I was even able to finish watching.

    Everyone once in a while, when one of his films get good reviews, I go see it, but I'm always disappointed. His earlier films are classics, and his old stand-up routines are hilarious.

    My mom loved Woody Allen movies. She was already out of her mind a bit when he slept with his step-daughter, which I suspect would have altered her opinion. I finally broke down and saw Match Point a few years ago. It left me utterly baffled at the hoopla. Also, utterly bored. I was duped into watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona last year and had a similar experience. I don't want my money back, but I would like Mr. Allen to arrange to have my life extended by 4 hours.

    Whoopi Goldberg astonishingly went so far as to say that he didn't, and I quote, commit "rape-rape", whatever that means.  Here's the video:

    Even more astonishing is how much sense Sherri Shepherd is making here.

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